President Donald Trump’s long list of immigration demands has landed with a thud among lawmakers hopeful for a deal to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.
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The list of demands released late Sunday includes funding for a southern border wall and a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities — items that are cheered by the president’s most loyal supporters, but are non-starters among Democrats and could divide Republicans, who will have to come together on any deal.
The demands have left pro-immigration activists alarmed. And some are scratching their heads, given that the president appeared to sign off on a more palatable deal with Democrats just weeks ago.
“To stall the progress that Democrats and Republicans have been fostering in giving permanent relief to more than 800,000 DREAMers is sabotage,” said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and frequent Trump critic.
House and Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle have said they want to find a legislative solution to extend protections first granted under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Trump announced last month that he was phasing out DACA, but gave Congress six months to act before recipients’ work permits begin to expire.
Trump suggested at the time that he was eager for a deal, telling reporters, “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.”
Days later, he appeared to reach the broad outlines of an agreement with the House and Senate’s top Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, in which the president would be open to extended DACA protections in exchange for a package of border security measures.
While Trump made clear that he still expected funding for his border wall, he said repeatedly that the funding could come later, in separate legislation.
In a joint statement Sunday night, Pelosi and Schumer said Trump could not “be serious about” the plan the White House had unveiled, which includes not only the wall, but dozens of other controversial measures, including a crackdown on unaccompanied immigrant minors and a complete overhaul of the legal immigration system.
Some of those who hope to see DACA protections extended said they remain optimistic the president will show flexibility, treating the priorities as a policy wish-list and starting point for negotiation.
Others see the demands as part of a plot orchestrated by Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, to derail any chance of a DACA deal.
“I don’t think President Trump wants to be the president who deports 700,000 young people,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, who described the list as a “big torpedo” to bipartisan negotiations already under way.
“I think the president’s staff have led him into a corner,” Noorani said, predicting the president would “not be happy when he realizes it.”
But one person familiar with the president’s thinking said the list was intended to make clear that Trump is no longer interested in forging a DACA deal, the same message sent by a White House official’s insistence Sunday that any path to citizenship for DACA recipients was off the table.
After backing an establishment Senate candidate who lost by 10 points in an Alabama special election last month, the president is working to please his base supporters, signing a new religious liberty executive order and broadcasting his intention to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.
“The president has made clear he wants Congress to act and pass responsible immigration reform in conjunction with any legislation related to DACA, which will include legal authorities to close border security loopholes, restoring interior enforcement, and reforming the legal immigration system,” said White House spokeswoman Kelly Love.
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News the president was “open to a deal” on DACA but only “along with all these other critical functions.”
“You know for years, this country, including Capitol Hill and the swamp, they’ve always asked: what more can we do for the illegal immigrant, what’s fair to the illegal immigrant? This president is asking: what’s fair to America? What’s fair to the American worker? What’s fair to the American community?” she said.
Both Democrats and Republicans have pointed to a hoped-for year-end package of spending bills as the likely vehicle to tackle immigration issues, including any potential DACA deal.
Democratic votes will be required to enact the year-end measure, but many Democrats have said they won’t support any legislation that doesn’t address DACA recipients, raising the possibility of a government shutdown just before Christmas.
Controversy over border wall funding already meant the year-end package would be difficult. But one potential opening is that the White House has been willing in the past to accept border fencing and other security steps that fall short of Trump’s vision for a wall along the entire length of the border.
Either way, Trump’s zig-zagging seemed likely to erode the trust that will likely be required to seal any agreement.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., said that, after Sunday, the president should not be considered a reliable negotiating partner. “Any decision the president makes one day is likely to be completely reversed another, depending on which extremist adviser he is listening to that day,” he said.
Still others, including Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., applauded the measures, calling the president “spot on.”
House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows said: “We look forward to the administration’s insistence on these principles in any deal that is signed into law. ”